Why Moral Low Ground Opposes the Foreign Attack on Libya
by Brett Wilkins
What constitutes a truly “humanitarian intervention?” Does Libya qualify as such? Could any foreign military attack ever qualify as such? Do the attacking foreign powers have the moral authority to intervene under the banner of humanitarianism? What does the principle of universality teach us about the current foreign intervention in the internal affairs of the sovereign state of Libya? Is the attack on Libya justified? Is it constitutional? What role does oil play in the attack? Is it a wise investment for a country $14,000,000,000,000 in debt? These are but a few of the questions we ought to be asking ourselves as we witness the latest American imperial adventure unfolding before our very eyes at the rate of a million bucks a missile.
That last thought speaks volumes, considering the monumental mess we’re in vis-a-vis our domestic economic situation. No-fly zones don’t come cheap. Hundreds of millions, even billions, of dollars will be spent on our nation’s latest overseas adventure, money that could be much better spent investing in jobs, education, health care and infrastructure for our own people. Instead, the more reactionary voices among us blame unions for bankrupting America. Want a humanitarian intervention? How about we attack child hunger or veteran homelessness or our sorry sick-care system. Tens of thousands of Americans die each year simply because they cannot afford health insurance. The US has fallen to 50th place in global life expectancy. Are these not more pressing concerns than a civil war half a world away?
Even if we were to set out to save the world, there are plenty of trouble spots– and that’s putting it ever-so-lightly– that are far more deserving of humanitarian intervention than Libya. The Stalinist Kim Dynasty in North Korea has murdered, starved and imprisoned millions of its own people for more than 60 years now. A military junta rules Myanmar with an iron fist, torturing anyone who dares utter a peep of opposition. Ethnic cleansing, mass displacement, slaughter of innocents and rape on an epic scale plague African nations from Sudan to the Congo to Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, just to name a few. Women, religious minorities and others are crushed under the weight of fundamentalist religious repression in America’s good friend Saudi Arabia. Bahraini authorities, closely allied with Washington and the West, are crushing a peaceful protest movement seeking the democracy America claims to champion. Where are the humanitarian interventions here? Where was the international community during the mass-murder of 800,000 Rwandans, many of them hacked to pieces with machetes, during that country’s barbaric genocide in 1994?
The answer, of course, is that the international community was nowhere to be found. Not only have leading members of the international community, the countries now backing and carrying out attacks against the sovereign state of Libya, ignored or done little to halt horrific crimes against humanity, these countries have often supported or perpetrated terrible atrocities themselves. France used torture in an unsuccessful bid to quash the Algerian independence bid of half a century ago. Britain forcibly removed the Chagossian people from Diego Garcia so America could use it for a super-base. And then there’s the good ole’ U S of A, supporter of mass-murder, torture, rape and repression in far-flung corners of the globe, from Indonesia under Suharto to the death squads of Central America to Saddam Hussein in Iraq, and other dubious examples far too numerous to list here.
Of course, we must be extremely wary of so-called humanitarian interventions, for altruism in international geopolitics is harder to come by than snow in the Sahara. The use of military force by any nation is almost always self-serving, even so in the handful of truly humanitarian interventions in recent decades. Such was the case when India invaded East Pakistan (soon to be Bangladesh) in 1971 to put a halt to the wholesale Pakistani murder and rape of more than a million people. Yes, India did stop the slaughter by intervening, but it also weakened its arch-enemy Pakistan. Ditto for Vietnam when it invaded Cambodia in 1978, ostensibly to stop Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge horror show that terrorized the population, killing as many as 3 million Cambodians in less than four years. The intervention got rid of the monstrous Pol Pot, but it also strengthened the hand of the Soviet Union, thus countering the rising power of foe China, which launched its own invasion of Vietnam in 1979. Around the same time Vietnam was conducting its humanitarian attack on Cambodia, Tanzania invaded Uganda to oust the brutal tyrant Idi Amin, ending his reign of murderous terror. But Tanzania’s motives weren’t all altruistic; the African nation wanted to re-capture the Kagera region which Uganda had tried to annex the previous year. Those three examples– India, Vietnam and Tanzania– are the most often-cited examples of purely humanitarian interventions. But a closer look quickly reveals that there’s really no such animal.
Let’s turn now to a concept that has eluded American minds for at least the last century. I’m talking about universality. The rules that apply to one country ought to apply to all. How would the US government react if some of its citizens took up arms against it in an effort to violently overthrow it? Of course the rebellion would be crushed, and the vast majority of the American people would support their government’s action. This is exactly what’s happening in Libya. The foreign forces now attacking Libyan forces are intervening in a sovereign country’s civil war in a tribal society without really knowing exactly who it is they’re backing or what form of governance will emerge when the dust settles. This is dangerously reckless and supremely hypocritical.
It is also patently unconstitutional. Consider these words from a young senator from Illinois named Barack Obama, spoken in opposition to the American-led invasion of Iraq back in 2007: “The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.” While not a unilateral attack, the Libyan intervention was conducted by the Obama administration without Congressional authorization, a clear violation of our Constitution. For that alone, this attack cannot be endorsed.
Then there’s the elephant in the room, the vast petroleum resources possessed by Libya and coveted by the oil-addicted Western powers. As global energy demand continues to soar and supplies begin to dwindle, control of the world’s remaining oil resources remains a geo-strategic imperative for the US and its Western allies. Removing Gaddafi, although not a stated objective of the current intervention, could lead to greater Western control over Libya’s 47,000,000,000-barrel oil reserves.
For all of the above reasons, Moral Low Ground opposes the foreign military attack against Libya. MLG sympathizes with Libyan opposition forces and shares their aspirations for freedom from Gaddafi’s authoritarian rule. The man has, after all, ruled the country since just after man took his first steps on the moon in 1969. We might also have supported a no-fly zone, if that were all that the world body had authorized. But Resolution 1973 gives sweeping powers to the attackers, including just about everything short of an occupation. This we cannot support. There are far more pressing matters, both at home and abroad, that are more deserving of our blood and treasure.
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